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Top Dog

By COLLIN MCRANN
Telluride Daily Planet

Jeff Smokevitch, the co- owner of Brown Dog Pizza in Telluride, has solidified his status as a leader in the world of pizza.

Smokevitch took the world title for the American-pan  division of the International  Pizza Expo’s Pizza Challenge  in Las Vegas with his renowned 3-1-3  Detroit-style pizza. It  was Smokevitch’s third time competing on the world-class level, but the win is his first world title in what he hopes will be the start of a trend. Smokevitch also came home with a second place finish in the final round of the expo’s challenge, which determined the “Best of the Best.”

“I  want to keep competing and try and win another world title,” Smokevitch said. “But it’s really hard to do because there’s so many great pizza makers out there.”

While the 3-1-3 might have smashed the  competition, an- other one of Smokevitch’s  Detroit-style  pizzas, the Brooklyn Bridge, took third in its division in another class known as non-traditional. It was made and entered by Smokevitch’s mother, Anita Smokevitch, with her son’s assistance.

Smokevitch describes the 3-1-3 as a mix of sweet and spicy. With its deep-dish crust, blend of calabria red chili peppers, sweet piquante peppers, cured salami and topping of fresh basil and arugula, it makes for some stiff competition.

The expo is held in Las Vegas in March every year, and the ros- ter boasts some of the biggest names in  the  pizza business. This year from March 19-21, more than 200 competitors came from across the globe to compete in four divisions. Divisions were broken up by different styles of pizza, which included traditional, non-traditional, American-pan and Italian style.

A panel of six judges tasted and ranked the pizzas.

Though Smokevitch’s victory might have been a strong one, he said it was not without its share of mishaps.

“Right before the  competition, my [preferred] oven broke.” Smokevitch said. “It broke like 10 minutes before I went up, so I had to use a different oven I wasn’t familiar with. It ended up being a great oven, because I won, but going into it the oven representative wasn’t there, so I ended up doing the adjustments myself.”

One thing Smokevitch takes pride in is his ingredients. During the competition, neither the Detroit nor Telluride side of his pizza was lost. He packed water from Telluride down to Las Ve- gas for the dough, and over the years he has stuck with the Wisconsin brick cheese that Detroit-style pizza is known for, among other things right down to the blue steel pans he uses from Michigan.

“When I presented [the 3-1-3] I told [the judges] all about the hydration of the dough — I said that I lived in Telluride about 9,000 feet up, so I had to adjust my dough recipe to use less yeast than at high altitude,”  Smokevitch said “When you present, you only have one shot and you don’t know what piece a judge might take — so it all has to be perfect. And the crust came out perfect —  if I had waited another 30 seconds it would have burned.”

Once the winners of the divisions were determined they went on to compete in a blind box competition. During that segment, competitors all had the same ingredients to work with in addition to a secret ingredient they were not told about ahead of time.

The  secret  ingredient was Kalamata olives. Smokevitch whipped up a pizza containing the olives, mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes and onions, all baked together with toppings.

The blind box determined the world champion, and Smokevitch was close — he got second.

Smokevitch, a Michigan native, has been turning heads in the  competitive pizza circuit since he first became a certified pizza maker a  few years ago through the International School of Pizza. There, he cut his teeth under the direction of his mentor Tony Gemignani. He has since gone back to the school to train with Gemignani eight times and they are now both on a team called the World Pizza Champions.

“He’s one of the leaders in the pizza industry,” Smokevitch said.

Smokevitch said that he and Gemignani have been invited to compete in Italy in April, and he plans to attend.

To try either the 3-1-3 or the Brooklyn Bridge, visit Brown Dog on Colorado Avenue in Telluride.

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